A Catechist Journey: A Joyful Advent Experience
Each month, Pope Francis through the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network consistently appeals to the people particularly Christians all over the world to join in his monthly prayer intentions to manifest support for said advocacy and to deepen their daily prayer life, among others. The prayer intention of the Holy Father for this month of December is offered for the Catechists worldwide, specifically for them to be courageous and to be creative witnesses in spreading the Word of God, with guidance from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Father acknowledged the invaluable mission of the Catechists for the transmission and growth of the faith and he also expressed gratitude for their dedication to said mission in the service of the Church.
The said call from the Holy Father merits consideration as this is a worthy cause which would definitely elicit positive impact not only to the Catechist’s spirituality but more importantly to the young kids and those people who have no sufficient knowledge about God or about the Faith or the lack of it. Catechism is practically a tool to teach young individuals, giving them opportunity to know and learn about God. Catechists are of great help to the Catholic Church, especially that the nuns, priests and religion teachers who have been involved in religious education in Catholic educational institutions are not enough, thus unable to serve the spiritual needs of everyone in the community where they belong, especially those children studying in public or secular schools. And so, Catechism was initiated (which is also known in the United States as Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) which was similarly organized to cater to kids in secular schools. This is where catechists’ assistance to the Church are of significant value not to mention their willingness and determination to share their time, talents and treasures.
I would like to share with you my catechism endeavor which dates back during those “yuppie” days. A colleague from a Catholic organization (Opus Dei) invited me to join them in teaching kids and teens along the shanty areas of Pandacan in Manila and those living under the Nagtahan Bridge. Prior to embarking on our Catechism journey, necessary preparations were undertaken, thus we were armed to the teeth, so to speak, ready for our mission with the basics and advanced learnings about the faith from attending recollections and talks or “circles” from spiritual directors who were themselves clergies and those women who have devoted their lives to the Work of God. However, this endeavor of mine was an off and on thing as I had to match it with my busy office schedule. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the blessing, the joy and the privilege to be able to teach these kids and teens. It was a joyful experience especially with the kids who were so eager to learn about God’s teachings, and the memorable moments particularly during Christmas season, a celebration of which was held at a famous park (Fort Santiago) where we played various games and had gift-giving thereafter. It was a sight to behold as the children were very happy, beaming with smiles, bringing with them their toy gifts and some goodies home to share with their parents and siblings. There was much to appreciate about this and I thought there was much left to be done as well and so, it seemed it was an unfinished business on my part. The excitement, the feeling and sense of concern for these unfortunate kids have not waned. The thought of doing it all over again was still there.
True enough, this passion to spread God’s Word especially to kids was rekindled when we stayed abroad. Perhaps, it was God’s way of responding my wishful thinking! An opportunity to teach in one of the Catholic middle schools in NYC knocked at the door and I sincerely welcomed the challenge.
I recall one of the memorable moments of this journey, the first day of class in December sparked a jovial spirit, making me excited just like the kids in school!
A fellow teacher and I have agreed to make a presentation at the school’s auditorium – A Christmas Play – with the kids as actors and actresses. It was more thrilling for the children, they appeared to be in a “happy mood” knowing that all of them will get to participate in a program, with their loved ones and friends as part of the audience. The joy on the faces of the children were evident; they were excited to audition for the major characters of the play, even for the minor roles of the shepherds. It was great way to kick off the Advent and the Christmas seasons and on how we can best make the kids aware of Christ’s first coming and His humble beginnings in Bethlehem. Mind you the Christimas play wasn’t just held once but for two consecutive years!
The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudette Sunday (also Joy Sunday) of Advent. My Catechist journey proved to be worthwhile. The joy, hope, love, peace and the positive energy that it provided me likewise radiated to the children as shown in their happy faces. You see, this kind of encounter make us ponder on how our faith in God, the joy, kindness and gratitude can have impact on our lives, specifically on how it can fill our hearts and lives and be like our Lord Jesus, at least in some ways.
Advent is a season of waiting, expecting and hoping for the coming of Jesus on Christmas time. It is a special time of the year where everyone should be filled with Joy as we are commemorating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and our God. The benefits of salvation which was offered by Jesus to us are overwhelming that people who accept it will be freed from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With the good deeds that we shared with those in need and the latter’s gratefulness in return, that’s something extra joyful, the presence of God in their eyes, minds and hearts. If we show genuine mercy and compassion towards our neighbors, especially to the poor, and in this case to the kids who need to know Jesus more, it will give us not only tremendous joy but hopefully a heavenly reward as well. And that is just the best gift that we can receive from God during Christmas time.
As they say, in order to get authentic joy, we can’t help but to exude joy, we have to give sincere joy first. If we don’t have it, there is a need to work for it. We have to ask for it. Okay sure, we feel happy whenever there are long weekends for our Christmas shopping and getting some good deals for perfect gifts for our loved ones, but the real joy comes from the Lord, it’s the joy of the Lord. It takes extra effort to do something to welcome Jesus into our hearts and lives, particularly during these trying times with Covid19 virus still around and the natural calamities that some of our brothers and sisters are experiencing these days.
However, it is not only during Advent and Christmas season or in any important occasion where we are expected to rejoice and give joy but also in our mundane activities. There are many ways, big or small, to embrace joy as part of our lifestyle (e.g. putting smiles on our faces, saying thank you, lending a helping hand not only to our loved ones but in the community and parishes we belong, admiring the beauty of nature, etc.), on how we can be messenger of Jesus Christ unselfishly and experience God’s Kingdom on earth. In my case, I can say I am so glad I made the choice to embrace catechism, I am truly grateful for meeting good friends who have encouraged me to try out teaching the faith, and I am more glad that everything turned out well.
And so this Advent and Christmas season, we pray to Father God that He will show and guide us how to be joyful and rejoice in all things. Help us to be mindful and grateful for all the blessings, to be bearers of unity, joy and peace in the world. We also pray that there would be more men and women who shall be able to respond to the call of Pope Francis for “good catechists” to assist the Catholic Church as both companions and teachers of the faith. We thank you Lord for the greatest gift of joy that came to us on this earth. In Jesus Mighty Name. Amen.
Note: This article has also been published in a Catholic newsletter/magazine abroad.